Islamophobia in India is multidimensional, pervasive, deeply rooted, and dangerously becoming a predominant force; especially in the ways that affect marginalized Muslim populations in economically deprived or politically conflicted regions. Recently, the hijab ban in India’s Karnataka which lead to controversy, violence; and such behavior of Hindu students towards their own classmates; raising a burning question- is islamophobia on the rise in India? Writes S.M. Tanjil Ul Haque
Islamophobia is meant to describe irrational hostility, fear, or hatred of Islam, Muslims, and Islamic culture, and active discrimination against these groups or individuals; here goes the actual definition. Now, let’s know the western point of view of ‘islamophobia’. British Runnymede Trust defines Islamophobia as; Dread or hatred of Islam and therefore, fear and dislike of all Muslims for their extremist history. According to American author Stephen Schwartz, Islamophobia is the condemnation of the entirety of Islam and its history as extremist. Definition of islamophobia in western point of view somewhat differs from the actual. After the fall of Communism, Westernism and Capitalism came up with a number of concepts including Islamophobia to suppress Islam by considering Islam as an infallible enemy or target. The irony is, though Muslims are blamed to be extremist they are being victims of extremism. It is no matter of surprise that, Islamophobia raging in India, a country dominated by ever-going Hindu-Muslim conflict. With every passing year, Islamophobia in India is becoming more normalized and mainstream. The people of the Muslim community of the country are suffering in terror. It is now the major topic of discussion in the Muslim world.
Recently, the situation in the Indian state of Karnataka has become tensed with the ban on hijab. In a video that went viral on social media on February 8, a female student was seen taking a strong stand in favor of hijab. The video shows, Muskan, a Muslim student wearing burqa, being ridiculed by a group of Hindutva youths dressed in purple while entering an educational institution in Karnataka. They tried to intimidate her with various Hindutva slogans. It is a matter of concern as the girl was alone in front of a crowd that despise her for her religious beliefs. The student then did something brave as she raised her hand to say ‘Allahu Akbar’ and entered the classroom keep on saying ‘Allahu Akbar’. This incident caused a heated debate all over the world.
Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai took to twitter to criticize the “horrifying” situation. Taking to the social media platform, she reacted in her tweet, “Refusing to let girls go to school in their hijabs is horrifying. Objectification of women persists — for wearing less or more. Indian leaders must stop the marginalization of Muslim women.”
In the educational institutions of the state of Karnataka, there has been problems for some time regarding the wearing of hijab by Muslim girls. The row started from Kundapur Government College in Udupi district in Karnataka state. Six Muslim students at the college have not been allowed to attend classes for weeks as they demanded to wear hijab. Tensions then spread to other high schools and colleges. In some colleges, Hindu students started coming to class wearing gerua color shawls or scarves. Hindu students marched against their own classmates for wearing hijab. Following these incidents, some Muslim women filed two petitions in the state’s high court. Violence erupted shortly before the hearing of a case on February 8. Brick-throwing, arson were reported in several areas. The incident of Muskan happened in this continuity. Indian state government then announced an investigation into the incident. Netizens are criticizing the government on social media for not taking action in advance. Rights activists say, “The ongoing campaign against the hijab is part of an effort by Hindu nationalists to harass India’s Muslim minority. This incident is the latest example of the persistent harassment of Muslim minorities in the Hindu nationalist BJP-ruled state.”
Priyanka Gandhi of Congress party also tweeted regarding the controversy, “Whether it is a bikini, a ghoonghat, a pair of jeans or a hijab, it is a woman’s right to decide what she wants to wear.” Priyanka’s tweet exposes the biases in Indian society. Because, while bikini which is a common sight in Bollywood movies, does not seem to threaten the Indian identity as much as the hijab. Christians wearing crosses and Sikhs wearing their turbans also does not pose any threat to the Indian identity. Despite the fact that, Muslims constitute approximately 204 million citizens of India’s 1.3 billion total population. Islam has existed in India since the 7th century. But it is now considered offensive to the Indian sentiment. What has changed?
The incident took place in India’s Udupi district because it is a communally sensitive place. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is now in power in this state. Many say it is a stronghold of BJP, the right-wing party of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and a laboratory for Hindu-nationalist politics. Religious divisions have deepened in the area for some time due to the growing activities and hate speeches by Hindu extremists. Delivering hate speech by Hindu nationalists towards Muslim minorities is not a new practice in India. Not so long ago, a conference of Hindu religious leaders in Haridwar, India’s northern state of Uttarakhand, has called for genocide against Muslims in the country. Video footage of the conference spread on social media, sparking a storm of condemnation. Sadhvi Anyapurna, general secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha, said, “Nothing is possible without weapons. If you have to wipe out the Muslim population, kill them! Get ready to kill them! If we have only hundred soldiers and we kill twenty lakh of them, then we will be victorious. Only if you move forward with this attitude, you can save our religion.” These threads by the Hindutva activists and there fearlessness of law and order indicates clearly that they are in power or in favor of the running government. Hindutva activists in recent years, started revealing their long suppressed hatred towards Muslims.
Numerous news reports suggests that, Hindu-Muslim religious conflict rises in India since the formation of Modi’s government in 2014. Modi’s political party-BJP’s main agenda is ‘Hindu Nationalism’, otherwise known as Hindutva. Hindu nationalism is driven by a Hindutva ideology, with both BJP and its right-wing paramilitary sidekick Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), aiming to unite the Hindu majority to form a Hindu nation that excludes non-Hindu minorities. Hindutva has been around for more than hundred years in India. Followers of Hindutva were on the fringes for most of it; India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had even banned RSS who were disciples of Hindutva. Since the late 1970s, they gained prominence but it was with BJP that this form of nationalism gained a strong footing in Indian society. What has changed in India is that, hatred of the extremists towards Muslims is no longer a secret.
Now, it is as clear as day, all these incidents Modi’s “secular” India depicts one thing: islamophobia. For the Muslims of India, it is an inescapable reality that has pervaded their every waking hour. The seeds of Islamophobia have been painstakingly planted since 2014 when BJP came to power. Narendra Modi plays the part of the secular leader praising Indian Muslims or claiming that terrorism has no religion. But, at the same time, his party politics, that of Hindu Nationalism, is founded on the goal of extrusion of Muslims. One of the most striking portrayals of Modi’s ideology was the Citizenship Amendment Act in 2019, where the BJP offered to fast track citizenship for religious minorities in neighbouring countries, but not for Muslims. It had sparked the deadly Delhi riots.
“The Modi government made it extremely clear to Muslims that they were not going to address them at all. The exclusion was quite blatant,” says Ghazala Jamil, an assistant professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. “There has been a marked increase in anti-Muslim hostility in all kinds of institutions.”
Earlier, in May 2020, during the first wave of coronavirus and lockdown in India, controversy over Islamophobia in India regained momentum. At the time, there were allegations by ruling politicians on Twitter that Muslims were spreading coronavirus in India. People of that community were attacked in several parts of the country on this pretext. Though, India has strongly criticized the allegations, saying they were “completely propaganda”. As many as 8,000 devout Muslims attending a three-day Tabligh Jamaat rally in New Delhi’s crowded Nizamuddin area were stranded shortly after the Indian government announced a ban on public rallies in March 2020. According to Mujib-Ur-Rahman, a spokesman for Tabligh Jamaat, “the rally was open on March 24 to provide shelter to people stranded by 21-day lockdown. By the government’s order law enforcement of the country raided the rally on the second day of the lockdown. Many were arrested”. He also said, “The government has blamed Tabligh for 30 per cent of coronavirus infections in the country. But avoided the topic of other religious and political gatherings at the same time. The government is not commenting on why screening was not arranged at the airport from the beginning?”
According to a section of the political circles, the central government started spreading hatred across the country from the time it passed the amended citizenship law. Hindu-Muslim differences are evident. It was exacerbated by the Delhi riots. Coronavirus situation temporarily calmed that atmosphere. But the way the ruling party blamed the Tabligh gathering for the spreading of coronavirus infection in their country, which resurfaced religious animosity. The situation reached such a point that separate wards for Hindus and Muslims were opened in a hospital in Gujarat. The hospital authorities also admitted that. However, the Indian government later denied the allegations.
Apoorvanand of The India Forum expresses deep concern over growing islamophobia in India. He says, “All aspects of Muslim life are defamed, criminalized. Their everyday acts are portrayed as part of a collective conspiracy. Hindus are being told that Muslims are waging ‘economy jihad’ and therefore they must be boycotted economically. Attacks on Muslim business are now becoming routine. The idea is to deprive them of their livelihood.” A convenient way of crippling Muslims economically is to ban meat and slaughterhouses. India’s UP government has announced a ban on meat in Mathura, calling it a holy city of Hindus forcing thousands of Muslims into misery. Assam chief minister did it in a more devious manner. Selling and consumption of meat within 5 km of temples or holy places of Jains and Sikhs have been outlawed in Assam. What he is proposing is the permanent segregation of Hindus and Muslims. Critics pointed out that, anyone can build a temple anywhere and the meat ban rule could thus be extended to any place. There are temples in many Muslim-dominated villages. What about them?
Indian Muslims have also experienced discrimination in areas including employment, education, health care and basic services. Moreover, they often struggle to secure justice after suffering discrimination, despite constitutional protections. A 2019 report by nongovernmental organization ‘Common Cause’ found that, half of police survey shows anti-Muslim bias, making them less likely to intervene to stop crimes against Muslims. Analysts have noted widespread impunity for those who attack Muslims; in recent years, courts and government bodies in India have sometimes overturned convictions or withdrawn cases that accused Hindus’ involvement in violence against Muslims.
So, in 2022, when a college in Karnataka bans the hijab, there isn’t as much moral outrage amongst the public in India. This is exactly the ideology that the public has been consuming since 2014. It started in subtle, gradual portions but within a few short years, Hindutva’s impact became loud, clear and deadly all over India. Islamophobia in India is multidimensional, pervasive, deeply rooted, and dangerously ascendant; especially in the ways that affect marginalized Muslim populations in economically deprived or politically conflicted regions.
Not only in India, but Islamophobia has its effect all over the world. Research shows that the United States identified more than 160 Muslim-American terrorist suspects in the decade since 9/11, just a percentage of the thousands of acts of violence that occur in the US each year. Between January and September 2017, the Council for American-Muslim Relations recorded 1,656 so-called “bias incidents” and 195 hate crimes directed to Muslims. The past few years have seen a number of deadly Islamophobic attacks in Europe and North America. In 2017, Darren Osborne carried out a van attack against Muslim worshippers in Fins bury Park in London. Statistics released by the Home Office of UK showed more than half of religiously motivated attacks in 2017-18 were directed at Muslims. In late 2009, the largest party in the Swiss parliament put to referendum a ban on minaret construction. Nearly 60% of Swiss voters voted in favor of the ban, leading to cries of Islamophobia. Despite a very public debate on the banning of a religious symbol of Islam, much of the Swiss population did not believe that the Swiss Muslim community should feel discriminated against. The attack in New Zealand’s Christchurch outlines the international spread of Islamophobic hate crime, which becomes highly pertinent in a globalized world.
To conclude, as the largest democracy in the world, India is one of the most diverse countries structuring its system based on democratic values. As a whole, Muslims make up about 15 per cent of India’s population, and it is this statistic that draws me toward this country’s situation as well. They should find ways to put a stop to this hatred and violence that brings a period of chaos every few years. India, like any other nation, has other problems to deal with, so extremism in all its forms must not be tolerated. I do not think that any religion orders its followers to kill or hurt members of other religions. The Indian authorities should not let these unwanted incidents destroy the image of India.